ARSENAL – TACTICAL HISTORY CAN HELP REFINE TRANSFERS by Nicholas Oyoo
In 1996 when Wenger came to Arsenal he started his first match October 12th 1996 against Blackburn Rovers which he won 2-0 was patterned in a 3.5.2 pattern. He had Hartson and Wright with Mason, Vieira and Platt in Centre Midfield, Dixon and Wnterburn as Winbacks and Bould, Adams and Keown as the back three. He won 2-0.
By 1997, Wenger had identified Dennis Bergkamp as a player to build a team around. Within a year of his appointment Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit were signed to form a midfield pairing behind the Dutchman, and Marc Overmars and Nicolas Anelka arrived as targets for Bergkamp’s incisive passing. In defense he had Winterburn, Adams, Keown and Dixon. With Seaman in Goal, the pattern was 4.4.2.
The second 4.4.2 was formed in 2000 when Anelka, Overmars and Petit left. In their place arrived Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg and the defense was Cole, Campbell, Keown and Lauren and Lehmann in goal. Toure made his way for Keown. Henry had the freedom to work the channels, run at defenders and seemed to be appearing from all corners. Bergkamp was executing a powerful between-the-lines role with Pires and Ljungberg coming in as ‘inverted wingers’ – both players moving into central areas from wide starting positions, Pires to create and Ljungberg to score goals. The more technical full backs were given more license to add in attack. To support Vieira in midfield, able replacements in Edu, Gilberto Silva, and later Cesc Fabregas were available. Meanwhile, in attack, Thierry Henry became arguably the world’s most feared striker. But you need to read his assists numbers to know how important his contribution to goals was. This resulted into the most successful Arsenal squad, it went on into an unbeaten title-winning season in 2003/04 and a Champions League Final appearance in 2006. Bergkamp and Hendry looked to have developed a telepathic chemistry of attack that no one in Europe wanted to face. However, there was a pretty strong a strong defense and a very disciplined midfield.
And new players came into the team. Bergkamp, Pires and Ljungberg went and in came Nwankwo Kanu and Robin van Persie, Jose Antonio Reyes, Tomas Rosicky and Alexander Hleb and in defense came Emmanuel Eboue and Gael Clichy replacing Lauren and Ashley Cole – but the basic balance of the side remained. During this period Arsenal won two Premier League titles, with four second place finishes, and reached six cup finals, winning three.
Both Eduardo and Emmanel Adebayor were played alongside Van Persie in a 4-4-2, but by 2009 Arsenal had adopted a 4-3-3 variation and before long the lone striker was introduced. With Van Persie operating as a lone striker, Wenger wanted to add a third central midfielder and give his wide playmakers more attacking freedom. At full back both Clichy and Bacary Sagna continued to be ambitious with their attacking runs, but now lacked the defensive support previously afforded to Arsenal by a flat midfield four – as a result Arsenal became particularly vulnerable down the flanks. In attack, neither Adebayor nor Nicholas Bendtner were capable of replicating Van Persie who was almost always unavailable.
In midfield, the balance was lost as both Abou Diaby and Alex Song was touted as Vieira replacements, but obviously lacked the disciplined presence of Petit, Edu and Gilberto that gave the team the defensive balance it required. Fabregas and Nasri were getting forward to support Van Persie, Arsenal need at least one of Diaby and Song to operate as a reliable defensive shield, but neither player possessed the positional discipline to provide such a service.
By 2013 Van Persie Wenger’s side were not a title-challenging side with the forward, but his goals did cover up a lot of flaws and stole a lot of points. Without the one player capable of fulfilling two attacking roles, Wenger opted to return to a creator-goalscorer axis, signing Santi Cazorla to play as an advanced playmaker and Olivier Giroud to lead the line.
Arsenal lack in natural holding players was met with the arrival of Mikel Arteta to join Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey as technically sound midfielders more adept at dictating play than shielding a back four. In attack, the transformation of the wide forwards from technical playmakers (Hleb, Rosicky, Nasri, Andrey Arshavin) to direct attackers (Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) took away from the team the creativity and tact that once defined them. Arsenal continued to aspire to dominate possession and press aggressively, but now had a forward line better equipped to counter attack and a back four uncomfortable with defending with a high line.
By 2015, Arsenal had brought in Ozil, Sanchez and Welbeck and Arsenal potentially looked like it would be a force if Wenger planned around this new attack axis. However, Wenger kept the 18.104.22.168 pattern if play. Sanchez would be deployed on the left, Ozil in the Centre and on the right, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Welbeck and Ramsey at times. No one seemed to make the right wing their own. Certainly Wenger did not seem to want to pick from the market a dedicated right winger like he had Alexis on the left. Soon, Giroud was out of form and Alexis moved to Central Forward. In the left again there was no one to replace him and Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla were key here.
In the centre, again there seemed to be rotations with Cazorla, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain etc. getting to play here especially when Arteta left. Cech had been brought in and Arsenal had a goalkeeper one could vouch for.
In my view, Arsenal have been a team in transition for the last 10 years and have never settled into a team. That made it hard for there to be built in group success. It has also wasted talent of players when Wenger has been asking them to play in roles that their skill sets are not meant for. Very talented players were never given their best environment that complimented their talents like Wenger had managed to do with the Invincibles of 2003/04. Giroud, Alexis, Welbeck and now Lacazette are truly capable attackers, but they work very poorly in isolation and need an attacking team-ship. It has been the reason we did not go on to pick the goals we should have been picking over the years from the many chances and possession we have been able to have. We field like a team that already has 5 goals to nil and going for a second game in the robin round format and we just want to sneak in one more goal to get it over the line. If we succeed in bringing in Aubameyang we must pair him up with Lacazette and Welbeck can be the third striker if he stays in the team. I kept wondering why we never got to see Alexis pairing with Giroud and finally with Lacazette upfront. It is not a must that we play wingers as players in the central and backline can explore the wing places as well as a mobile attacking duet like Aubameyang-Lacazette can explore these areas. Wenger must have a pattern in place, get into the market and buy to fill the roles that his pattern involves and ensure that those brought in are capable of the duty they are being brought for. It is not supposed to be trial and error line-up. He needs a team vision and he needs to share the vision to his prospective sign ups and needs then to see what they are coming to do at Arsenal FC, how that will take the team forward and even the trophies we can challenge.
Arsenal actually played 2017/18 with seven defenders! Talk of lack of balance. (We played with defending minded wingers and add the defending minded central midfield). The confusion leads to players in the central midfield to join in attack and forgetting their duty as transitioners of the team (turning defending into attacking and start the first defending of any attack to us).
Here is my dream lineup based on the current Arsenal transfer stories; Play Pattern 3-2-3-2 (3.5.2)
My squad Vision would be as to have each slot rotatable with at least two dedicated players and a third player available.
Central Forwards: Aubemenyang, Lacazette, Perez, Welbeck, Akpom – Bring Back Perez from loan and Play any 2 in a match. If not sell Perez and Welbeck and buy one accomplished striker and one young striker.
Attacking Midfielders: Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Malcom, Iwobi, Reiss Nelson – Bring Back Joel Campbell from loan. Play any 3 in a match. Possibly buy one more player.
Central Midfield: Ramsey, Wilshere, Xhaka, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Joe Willock – Replace Ramsey and Elneny by selling them and buying new players. Play 2 players in a match.
Left Back: Kolasinac, Monreal – Pick one player in a match – Need one or two more players
Centre Back: Koscienly, Mavropanos, Mertersacker, – Pick One player for the match – Need to replace aging Koscienly and Mertersacker – 2 More players for a two-year transition. One senior and one youth system.
Right Back: Bellerin, Mustafi, Rob Holding. Pick One player in the match. One more player from the youth system would be okay. I note Mustafi and Holding have been doing central Defense a lot, but I feel they can push Bellerin for this role and bring balance into the squad.
Every player in the squad knows, their playing position, knows their colleagues/competition and training needed for the position. Wenger must stop this madness of utility players. Players who are rotated into every position and have no specialty. It is one way that he has succeeded in not making his players tick. Granted, Monreal, Koscienly and Mustafi can play several roles here in defense. But they must be developed into a single position holders and only used in other parts in times of crisis.
What do you think?